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Horsing Around in Grosse Pointe

Equestrian passion runs deep.

Horses have always been an important part of our history. They’ve helped in the construction of buildings, have been put to work clearing land, and have always been a huge part of our agricultural industry. They’ve even helped us win wars. Most horses are intelligent and strong, and work comfortably alongside people. 

Horses have also often been used for just fun though. Horseback riding is a popular pastime for people in various countries, and in the United States, horseback riding, whether for profit or entertainment, is also a big business. According to the American Horse Council, there are an estimated 7.2 million horses in the United States, and of these, over 3.1 million are used in recreation, while another 1.2 million are used for showing. An estimated 1.2 million are also used in racing and a much smaller amount, just 537,000, for working.

Of course, the majority of students enrolled in horseback riding schools are children. After all, what child doesn’t want a pony for his or her birthday?

“I just loved horses from the time I grew up and loved going to see the Lipizzaner stallions when I was a little girl,” says Lynne Krueger, the owner, along with her husband Jerry, of Grosse Pointe Equestrian (formerly the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club) in Grosse Pointe Woods since 2017. “The dream of Black Beauty was always there. As soon as I began earning my own money, I started taking lessons and then bought my own horse.”

Although she took time off from riding to raise her 10 children, when the youngest was old enough, Lynne brought him with her when she started taking lessons again with her kids. “I finally got into dressage, which is my favorite type of riding, although I’ve done Western and other types of riding too.” Today, Lynne is an advanced dressage rider and teaches at Grosse Pointe Equestrian. 

“We have 10 trainers who have various backgrounds in dressage, hunter/jumper trainers, and a school program trainer who specializes in multiple riding styles,” says General Manager Gabe Hernandez. 

“We have retired hunter/jumping ponies that used to show, we have ponies that are great with kids, and we have a little pony that’s only ten hands,” says Danielle Douglass, the school horse program director at Grosse Pointe Equestrian. “Some of those include Arabians, Morgans, Shetlands, Andalusians, and Halflingers.” Danielle is certified through the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) as a level 3 instructor in English, Western, and jumping. 

Since horses and riders must learn to communicate with each other and work as a team, Danielle focuses on fostering that clear communication between her students and the horses they’re learning on. Only when this high-level of communication is obtained can the riding skills of the students advance. 

In the school program, all beginner riders are paired with a knowledgeable leader. Then, as the instructor is coaching, the leader will be  there to reinforce the finer details of riding. Only then will very young riders be allowed to be free of a lead line. There can be 100 students in the school program at any one time and lessons are given in both private and small group settings.

Most of the students in these programs are young, with some as young as 4 years old. “Danielle has very strict rules about what they have to be able to do before letting them off the lunge line,” says Lynne. “But most of our students are 7, 8, and 9 years old as well as teens.” 

Because all children love to play games, learning is also taught through playing. Danielle and the rest of her team use these games to help the riders learn, retain, and build on skills while at the same time instilling confidence in their abilities. It’s a fun and enjoyable way to learn, and enables children to embrace their love of horses and riding. 

But horseback riding isn’t only for children. It can be learned and enjoyed at any age. “We do have people in their 50s, 60s and 70s and we have some in their early 80s,” says Lynne. “It’s wonderful for your physical health. I’m in much better physical shape now than I was in my 30s due to horseback riding.” 

“You’re never too old,” agrees Helen Denys, owner of Hoof n’ Woof in Grosse Pointe Park. “Most people start at 6 to 8 years old, but I started at 51!” 

Now, over 10 years later, she still rides. “I love horses and I always have,” she says. “They are such magical creatures. When I’m around horses I just mellow out.” 

Today, Helen owns a 24-year-old 2000 pound Percheron named Lacey and a 15-year-old Quarter Horse named Maddy, who’s only 15 hands and is also used for lessons at a local barn. 

“She’s one of those lovely horses that anyone can hop on and she’ll pretty much do whatever is asked,” she says. “You can put a beginner on here and she’ll take a kid around, and you can put a jumper on her and she’ll jump.” 

Operating Hoof n’ Woof for the last five years has been incredibly fun, says Helen. Being the only local tack shop, she meets many other local riders who come in to buy their riding apparel, bridles, saddles, tack equipment and more. “There are many barns in and around Grosse Pointe,” explains Helen, so she is never short on customers. 

While having the right equipment and learning critical skills are necessary for a successful riding experience, being on the proper horse is also a factor. There are wide varieties of breeds, colors and sizes. And while someone may like the look of a particular horse, it’s critical to match a person’s ability, goals, and personality with the right horse. 

“We’re not going to put a real tiny person who hasn’t ridden before up on top of a huge draft horse,” says Lynne. “For me, when I’m matching a horse to a student, I have to take into consideration that physical aspect, and then their experience.

“The horses I use for dressage are not the horses you would take on a trail ride. They are much more sensitive and much more highly trained. If the person is a nervous rider, I will pick a horse with a calmer temperament or who has a rounder shape so the person feels more secure on the horse. Then I slowly have to bring my student’s ability up to where they can ride any horse.” 

In the school, there’s one little pony named Milk Shake that the kids all love, and Lynne sometimes uses her own personal horses in the learning programs. There are her two Andalusians named Aurora and Galileo and a Paint Draft Cross named Alaska. 

“I’m a big fan of Andalusians,” she says. “They are very intelligent, very sensitive, and very athletic and have been trained for hundreds of years to do dressage so they are usually too much for a beginner rider.” 

In addition to the 12 or so horses used for the school lessons, there are also a number of horses kept in Grosse Pointe Equestrian’s 50 stalls. Many of these horses are privately owned and only ridden by their owners, who often take lessons as well. There are also 23 paddocks, two indoor arenas and three outdoor arenas, each with GGT footing, including two full-size dressage arenas. Horseback riding events are also held here. 

“It’s a much larger facility than most like it in Michigan,” says Lynne. “We have a lot going on here.”

Regardless of your age or skill level, if you want to enjoy the sport of horseback riding, find an instructor and horse that’s right for you, and get up into the saddle. It will improve not only your physical health, but your mental health as well. There’s just something relaxing and special about being on a horse. Giddy up!

Hands: The height of a horse is measured in hands, and one hand is equal to four inches. 

Dressage: a form of riding performed in exhibition and competition, as well as an art sometimes pursued just for the sake of mastery. The International Equestrian Federation defines it as "the highest expression of horse training" where "horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements

GGT footing:  GGT is a shredded textile product added to sand to improve the function of the sand as horse footing. It comes in different types depending upon the kind of sand you have and the intended purpose of the footing. All types function to stabilize the sand particles, improve the shock-absorbing properties of the surface, reduce dust and help prevent the surface from compacting.